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  1. “Thanks so much for the new wooden spoon, it will look perfect next to the spatula that you got me last year,” you tell your Great Aunt Mary. The smile on her face is more heartwarming than a puppy taking a nap. Nevermind that you haven’t once used the spatula from last year and there is a no chance that you will even touch the wooden spoon, it’s the thought that counts.

    You’ll receive gifts in Poker as well. Some will be super shiny and crumble shortly after. Others will start out looking bleak and blossom into a bed of roses by the end. It’s supremely important that we engage in each phase of a hand as one unique part of the bigger picture so we are able to see our gifts when they arrive. Let’s take a minute to review the phases of a No Limit Texas Hold’em game below:

    Phase #1 – Setup: Button, Small Blind, Big Blind and Antes are established. Two cards are dealt to each player.
    Phase #2 – Pre-Flop: Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Fold, Bet or Raise depending on the action.
    Phase #3 – The Flop: Three community cards are revealed. Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Check, Bet, Raise or Fold depending on the action.
    Phase #4 – The Turn: One community card is revealed. Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Check, Bet, Raise or Fold depending on the action.
    Phase #5 – The River: One community card is revealed. Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Check, Bet, Raise or Fold depending on the action.
    Phase #6 – The Showdown: Winning hand is turned up and the Pot is awarded.

    7-2 offsuit is notoriously tagged as the worst hand in Poker because there are no ways to make a Straight using both cards and both cards are very low. When we take a closer look, however, we see that it can be more accurately described as the worst hand in Poker at Phase #2. Maybe I’m in the Big Blind with 7-2 and nobody raises allowing me to see a free Flop taking us to Phase #3 where the board shows 7-7-2. Now we have the best hand in Poker even if only for one Phase of the hand.

    While it’s important to look ahead and understand what you or your opponent might be holding or drawing to at each phase, we are strongly against assuming that one particular outcome will occur. Casinos are clouded with too much talk about players who will never get a good hand or haven’t seen good cards in ages when they may have already missed a gift. The key is to have the patience and know that there are multiple phases of a hand and your starting cards will not always predict a win at Phase #6.

    In today’s example, I choose to make a play at Phase #2 that does not go as expected. In Phase #3, however, an unexpected Flop shows completely changing my mindset.

    I’m on the Cutoff in Phase #2 holding Ac-2c with blinds and antes at 25/125/250. I have 48 big blinds with a mixed table (some large, medium, and short stacks). A-2 falls into my playable hand range if the action were to fold to me. As a review, if the action folds and we have over 20 big blinds, then we should raise with any Ace, any pocket pair, most suited connectors and any two cards over 7. A-2 qualifies under the “any Ace” bucket. Let’s see how the action moves around before deciding what to do.

    Attachment 595936

    Action folds around and the player to my right raises. Recall from “Seeing In The Dark” that while $515 is not an exact minimum raise, it still is the correct amount and shows that my opponent has some level of knowledge about the correct bet sizing in a pre-flop situation. This piece of information helps us understand that his raise may be motivated by an attempt to steal the blinds or make a continuation bet on the Flop with a weaker hand. We cannot be fully certain that this is the case until we receive more information. It’s definitely possible that he has a premium hand as well. A raise to $1,000 here would provide more evidence towards the idea that he is an amateur player holding a big hand with less understanding of the principles described at The Poker Model.

    Classic Poker Model strategies would say to fold A-2 in this situation as it does not fall into the call behind hand range that we suggest. As a reminder, those hand ranges are 22-QQ, K-J+ and A-10 to A-Q in most situations. It would be fine to fold right now.

    My opponent’s stack size made me a bit more curious. If he is raising to steal the blinds, he cannot 4-bet bluff me unless he moves all-in because of his 21 big blind stack and I have enough chips to make the play; this may be a good spot to try. Sure he could move all-in on me, but that will tell us that the original raise was made with a good hand. I’m comfortable with folding if that play is made.

    Attachment 595937

    I make the 3-bet about 2.4 times the minimum raise. Generally speaking, 3-bets should be between 2-3 times the size of the original raise. I’m relieved when the three players to my left fold. If any one of them had picked up at big hand, like A-K, K-K, A-A, Q-Q or A-Q, then they would 4-bet me and I’d have to fold. Again, I have plenty of chips to make this move and will be just fine folding. Additionally, making a 3-bet fold will help my table image if I do pick up a big hand later. Other players may think I’m making moves and bluff their chips away to me. For example, if I’ve been 3-betting often and my opponents have been folding hands like 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, K-J and K-Q, they may start to question if I’m making the 3-bet with a big hand or simply bluffing. If on the next hand I pick up A-A, they will be more likely to 4-bet me with the very same hands or nothing at all, thinking I do not have a big hand. In the above example, a 3-bet fold would reinforce the idea that I have been 3-betting without a premium hand because I would have called the 4-bet behind me with a premium hand. It will look like I 3-bet the original raise with nothing and have my opponents 4-betting me with hands that they typically would not against a tighter player in future hands. This will work in my favor when I do in fact have a premium hand and perform a standard 3-bet later on.

    Because my opponent raised the correct amount preflop, I would expect him to move all-in or fold after my 3-bet. If he just calls, then I’ll be in a position to make a continuation bet on the Flop after he checks. This is why we made the play. We’ve put intense pressure on him to either risk his entire tournament with the 21 big blind stack or fold, giving us the Pot. We happen to have Ac-2c, but this play could have been made with any two cards, even 7-2.

    Attachment 595938

    A totally unexpected situation has presented itself. First, our opponent flat called our 3-bet. This is a major no-no because as you can see, he is forced to check and then fold to a bet if he misses the Flop. Even worse is that he now has under 20 big blinds and hoped to see a big Flop instead of keeping his stack where it needs to be.

    After assessing my opponent’s play and changing my opinion of his poker experience level, I look up and realize that I’ve flopped Two Pair. Thanks for the gift, Poker! I’m now in a situation where I’ve hit “All of the Flop” instead of our standard “None of the Flop” where my original plan was to 3-bet bluff. This has drastically changed Phase #2 to Phase #3 for me. Remember that “All of the Flop” is usually Two Pair or better and should be bet to get all-in. The heart draw on the board is there, but my opponent has under 20 big blinds and I’m in a situation where I’m betting to get all-in anyways because I have Two Pair. This means that I’ll make my bet (which looks like a continuation bet) in hopes of my opponent going all-in where I’ll call. Again, I’ve come to this decision because I have a big hand and my opponent will move all-in on me with worse hands than Two Pair.

    Attachment 595939

    I make a ? size bet, hoping to induce an all-in from my opponent. Many players would move all-in with One Pair, a lower Two Pair or a Flush Draw. I’m a big favorite against these hands with Two Pair. Also important to note is that if I bet too much here, I may get a Flush Draw to fold. The intrigue of the Flush Draw all-in is that it may get me to fold a hand like K-K or worse. So I want to bet small enough that a Flush draw would move all-in. This is the reason for the ? size bet instead of a large bet.

    Attachment 595940

    My opponent folds and I win a nice pot. The flat call of the 3-bet followed by a fold on the Flop with under 20 big blinds tells us that this player may understand how to raise in Phase #2 of a hand, but doesn’t understand how to fold in Phase #2. Also observe how my plans in Phase #2 were completely changed by a gift in Phase #3. Imagine the level of complexity that can occur in Phases #4 and Phase #5! For example, when you have 5-5 on a 6-K-K Flop and another 6 comes on the Turn changing your hand from fives to five-high. It’s okay, take a deep breathe and remember that The Poker Model will keep you even no matter what phase we are in because we’ll focus on our own two cards.

    It’s very easy to remember all of the bad beats that we have taken as poker players; we challenge you to remember the gifts and question how you’ve played them. Today I adjusted my core set of values because I saw an opportunity to take advantage of a short stack. My plan failed due to an inexperienced player wanting to see a Flop, but I was bailed out with gift that turned my hand into the monster that it appeared to be PreFlop. No matter what play you are making or spot that may look good to take advantage, always accept the gifts that come your way as you’ll certainly be on the other end of it soon.


  2. One of the interesting reports I get from Poker Dominator is how many days I’ve played poker out of the total number of days possible. From April 17, 2012 when I started grinding the Merge Network through August 31, 2017, I played poker in some form 1709 out of a possible 1961 days. That’s 87% of all days in a 5+ year period. That’s about 1 day off from playing every 8 days or on average about 4 days off per month.

    To be honest, I take more time off than that from my job being a pastor. Every Friday is my day off for a day of rest and then I’m also given 4 weeks of vacation per year. So that means in the same time period I had about 400 days off from the church but I only took 252 days off from poker. Looking back on it, that’s a very unhealthy pace in so many ways. However, I never really minded it because poker is such a fun game for me and the fact I’ve crushed for the most part also helped it to feel more like a game and less like working.

    However, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that 2017 has not been my best year. I’m in profit for the year but nothing like I’ve been the last few years where my profit has been near or greater than my church salary each year. The first part of this year I attributed a lot of it to running bad…which I was. However, as the year progressed the run bad wasn’t quite as bad but the big scores weren’t there either. That and the times I was running bad made for not a great attitude. In many ways I began to not look forward to the nightly grind. In my mind I was wondering each night in what ridiculous way was somebody going to suck out on me when it really counted. Mentally and emotionally I was in a bad place. Little did I realize how much the constant grinding was wearing on me.

    Finally, in September I decided to take a break. I was reminded of one of the habits from, one of my all-time favorite books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which is You Need to Sharpen the Saw. Basically it’s a reminder that if you’re sawing down a tree, ultimately you’ll get done faster if you periodically stop to sharpen the saw. Life or in this case poker, is the same way…unless you stop to occasionally rest and sharpen the saw you’ll burn out and not be effective.

    So in September I scaled way way back. I didn’t play nearly as many tourneys and overall I only played 17 of the 30 days in the month. Now that may still sound like a lot but remember my average was 4 days off in a month, whereas in this particular month I got 13 days off. I hadn’t had that many off in a month since June of 2015 when I basically had the entire month off, first from 2 weeks in Costa Rica and then the 2 weeks after that fighting the stomach bug I picked up while down there.

    The funny thing about that particular time was, after all that time off, I came back fresh and had one of my best months ever with over $31,000 in cashes. That then led to a few more months of an epic heater. So I should have known better and took time off sooner. I bring all this up because sure enough during the last week of September when I began grinding again (although smaller stakes), I began having deep run after deep run. I won’t spoil next months blog but I’m writing this in the early morning hours of October 2nd after having just wrapped-up my Sunday grind. For the day, I cashed 6 of 7 tourneys for about 3.5k. So you might say the time off has again cleared my head and I’m hoping for another heater to close out the year.

    So the lesson going forward is I need to be more intentional about scheduling some poker breaks so I don’t go through a couple month stretch like I recently did. I appreciate your holding me accountable to this in the months and years to come.

    Alright so how did September’s limited grind go? Well because of the playing smaller stakes and the limited volume it was one of my smallest months ever. But again that’s ok because I feel it will be made up for in the near future.

    75…Tournaments Played
    39…. Cashes (52%)
    5…. Final Tables
    2....…Top 3 Finishes
    $2672.40 in total cashes (7.88% ROI)

    Now onto my Merge up-date. For those not familiar with my blog, Merge stopped allowing Pocket Fives to track scores on September 5th 2016, so what I’m doing here is tracking where I would have been had they not stopped tracking. I do play some on other networks but Merge gets out 95% of my volume so I thought it would be fun and motivating to keep things going as if though it never stopped. I use Poker Dominator to track all tourney’s so these are the most accurate and up-to-date numbers as of the last day of the month.

    Merge Lifetime Total: $ 447138.41
    Career Lifetime Total:$511433.05
    Career number of Cashes:4063

    Follow my monthly results in real-time by following me on Twitter: @YourPokerPastor

    Thanks for reading...please post a comment with your thoughts or anything you'd like me to address in future blogs.

  3. Full Disclosure... I went through a messy divorce this past year, lost my father and grandfather all in the same time period. My bankroll suffered indirectly. My play wasn't up to par , mixed with a downswing , and playing above my bankroll just lead to disastrous results. Now I could sit around and say boo hoo look at me , But I grinded through and came out stronger because of it. I made adjustments in my life and got focused. I feel better and got out of a toxic situation. My health is better, I eat better and I have more fun. When it came to poker, I used discipline and sought new motivation for my game. My game was more self centered before but now I realize that long term, I am doing this for my 2 little boys. I plan to pay my mortgage, so they will always have a home , and pay for their college or trades in life one day through these earnings. My career is still a priority, but in today's world one salary is not enough and poker is my supplemental career. When I talk about my kids , poker and work, people always say... "I don't know how you do it". The answer is simple though. It's about discipline. Having kids, while pursuing a dream is a hard endeavor. Below I listed some tips on how to succeed in the Dad/ Poker world. ( This goes for Moms as well)

    1.) Kids come first - this needs to be number one. You need to put your kids first. This means attending their soccer practices, back to school nights , birthday parties etc. We only have so much time in our lives and we need to help these little guys/gals out. If your putting a card game ahead of your kids schedule then its never going to work. And before you say " well I need to make this money to help them" ... Watch the Eric Seidel pokerography. His kids are interviewed and say he never missed a high school sports game a day in their lives. Eric is one of the top players in the world and he can do it.

    2.) Eat Better / Exercise More - If you are like me, and your work full time, and play almost full time , then your health is going to take a toll. Kids in general will make you sleep less. I have found though by eating better and making exercise a part of your daily routine , I have more energy and can sleep less and still feel more energetic. This is a huge challenge for a lot of people. My recommendation is making prop bets to get started ( I currently have a bounty on my head, if people catch me eating certain carb foods on certain days I have to pay them cash ) Money motivates us and this helps. On days I can't go to the gym , I run around the back yard with my kids, play soccer with them, jump on the trampoline or work out in my basement. Involve your kids in your exercise and you accomplish 2 things in once. Family time and Exercise.

    3.) Wait til the kids are asleep... this is huge. Trying to play while your kids are running around , screaming , breaking stuff or making a mess is going to be a disaster. I do not start playing at night until my kids go to bed. It allows me to focus more and actually unwind for the day. Trying to watch your kids and play just doesn't work. Make a set bed time every night and stick to it.

    4.)Time management .. laying clothes out, pre packing ... Creating time to play is a must. This means when the kids are coloring, doing homework or watching TV, I am making lunches , laying out clothes for the next day, checking book bags etc. By pre planning and getting things set up for the rest of the week , you will create more time to play . So when you start playing online , you don't have to worry about something you forgot to do for their school the next day. Create more time by becoming more organized.

    5.) Naps ... This is the ultimate secret. When my kids nap, I nap. A good 25 min power nap will do wonders for your health and well being. There is a lot of good studies out there that say the same thing. Learn to squeeze in a good nap. Put down your phone, turn off the TV and just learn to nap or relax. Sometimes I will get 2 - 15- 20 min naps in a day and pays off wonderfully when putting in some late nights on the felt.

    Dad life is hard. Work Harder!

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